Friday, June 11, 2021

Open-car loads, crates: Part 4

 In this series of posts about crates as open-car loads, I have described scratchbuilding some large crates, and included some older crates of the same type. The most recent post in the series is at this following link: .

In the present post, I describe work with parts from a Chooch set of molded resin crates, their set 7243. These are often available from on-line sellers. Here is a photo from such a seller, showing the Chooch crates posed on and in front of a model flat car (the flat car isn’t part of the set).

I began with these Chooch moldings by using the two smallest crates as scenery on freight platforms. The three larger ones seemed like good candidates for open-car loads. 

As in the previous posts about crates, I applied different signs to each side. The largest crate in the photo above is my first example. The sign is for American Tractor Equipment Company, primarily offering tracked construction equipment, not farm tractors.

This particular crate molding is probably intended for a flat car, with its extensive bracing, but obviously can work equally well in a gondola. Here is the other side of this crate, with a sign for the Dorr-Oliver company, a well-known producer of process equipment for mining and chemical uses. It is spotted on the team track in my layout town of Santa Rosalia. (You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you would like to examine the sign.)

The two next biggest crates could of course be used separately, as they are maybe just big enough to require an open-top car for shipment, but as a twosome, they seem to me more convincing. On one side of both crates, I applied a sign for Clark Equipment, with its Benton Harbor, Michigan site identified. Note that I’ve added a scale 6 x 6-inch timber securement at each end of the larger crate, but had not yet added this to the smaller one.

Here again, these two are very suitable for flat cars, but can move equally well in gondolas, as in this example of a Santa Fe Caswell gondola, set out in front of the Shumala depot on my layout.

Lastly, there exist photos of multiple crate loads for which the shipper placed a sign on only one of the crates. I’ve done this with this pair (on the other side), using a sign for Dresser Industries. Here the crates ride on my kitbashed SP Class F-50-16 flat car, being switched at Shumala.

These examples of making use of a commercial set of crate moldings, Chooch in this case, are intended to show what can be done to make crates more interesting and industry-specific, as well as distinctive to your layout.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Waybills, Part 86: more originals

 Once again, I want to show some interesting waybills from Andy Laurent’s collection, and I have to thank him again for his generosity in sharing these. Today’s waybills have been chosen, as will become obvious, for a variety of reasons.

First. a waybill from a railroad you may never have heard of: the Alabama, Tennessee and Northern, a modest-size railroad at one time extending north from Mobile, Alabama about 220 miles to a junction with the GM&O west of Tuscaloosa. I apologize that it is photographed at a bit of an angle, but that won’t impede reading and interpreting it (you can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish).

The waybill is interesting in a whole bunch of ways. It’s for a shipment from the Oyster Shell Products Company of Mobile, Alabama, and is being sent to the Door County Coop Association in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The routing is via AT&N to Aliceville, Alabama (handwritten in) to an interchange with the Frisco, thence to St. Louis and transfer to the CB&Q to take the car to E. Winona, thence across Wisconsin via the KGB&W.

The cargo is interesting in its own right: it's 715 bags of oyster shells (likely intended as soil amendment to decrease acidity). And note, at the right center of the bill, that there appears the typed note, AGREEMENT SWIB, meaning that a weight agreement is in force, issued by the Southern Weighing and Inspection Bureau (WIB). 

I have written extensively about weight agreement stamps, but the typed note you see on this AT&N bill, in lieu of a stamp, is not unusual. Likely the AT&N agent knew perfectly well about this agreement and would not have questioned it. Thus the rather round number of the weigh, 50,000 pounds, would have been the basis for the freight charge. And lastly, note that the cargo was loaded into Union Pacific box car 110085, a typical example of a “free-running” box car being used for loading.

The second waybill I want to show is one from the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (CNO&TP), controlled by the Southern Railway. This is one of those waybills that’s best appreciated in color, because of the varying colors of stamp ink and variety of stamps. The origin is Arvin Industries in Oneida, Tennessee. Note that, like the waybill above, the origin station is preprinted for the agent’s convenience, not typed. And here the full railroad name at top takes two full lines at the chosen type size.

In this bill, one suspects that the cargo could be LCL (less than car load), since it is only 291 pounds weight, and consists of 13 cartons of aluminum furniture. However, it was loaded into Southern box car 20159, and was routed from Oneida to Danville, Kentucky (a short distance), where it was tranferred to the Southern, which took it to Louisville. Routing from there is handwritten in the waybill’s ROUTE box: CIL (Monon), presumably to Chicago, then Milwaukee Road to Green Bay, where it made the usual changes to KGB&W and A&W, ultimately reaching Gerhardt’s Hardware in Algoma.

Lastly, I will include a Western Pacific waybill from Oakland, California, leaving the California Packing Corporation (better known by its brand name, Del Monte). The shipment is only 11,750 pounds, and consists of 250 cases of canned pineapple. 

It was shipped in PFE 4816, likely serving as an insulated box car, not as a refrigerator car, since the shipment reached Wisconsin around the first of March. It is destined to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, care of a wholesaler, Griffin and Toohey. At right center you may note a weight agreement stamp from the Trans-Continental Freight Bureau WIB.

Routing is as one might expect: WP to Salt Lake City, D&RGW to Pueblo, Colorado, there transferred to the Missouri Pacific. Then MoPac to Kansas City and Milwaukee Road to a transfer to Chicago & North Western, perhaps at Racine, Wisconsin (bypassing Chicago), then on to Green Bay. Here again, we see quite a variety of stamps and colors, tempting items for model use.

Thee is also some interesting language in the RATE part of the document, stating that what appears to be a processing-in-transit claim is made, including partial shipment on a car moving on the immediate previous waybill number. Not sure many of us want to duplicate all that, but it’s further information.

I find these prototype waybills endlessly interesting and informative (thanks again, Andy), and feel I almost always learn something from each one. I hope some of the readers of this blog feel the same way.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Passenger car diaphragms, Part 3

In the previous post on this topic, I showed how I chose the diaphragm length (parallel to the car length), and a little about the “bare bones” diaphragms found on some head-end equipment after World War II. You can view that post at this link: . At the end of that post, I mentioned “stabilizer bars,”  sometimes called tension bars or anti-rattle bars. What are these?

One of the earliest photos I have found of these bars being installed on a conventional heavyweight car is shown below, a Pullman image dating from 1940. You can see here how prominent the bars can be, and it certainly would not be acceptable to omit them on a car that ought to have them.

It is evident that this bar extends from the top of the diaphragm on the car body, downwards and outwards to the bottom of the diaphragm at the face plate. And it is not a slender bar.

These bars seem to have been introduced with the first non-articulated lightweight equipment built by Pullman,  about 1937, though as late as 1933, heavyweight Pullman sleepers were still being outshopped without these bars. 

Here’s some  history. In 1934, Pullman’s first lightweight train, an articulated design, was delivered to Union Pacific. The intent was to make the train look really streamlined, not only with smooth external contours, but with no visible gaps between cars. One uncomplimentary description was that the train looked like “an enormous worm.”

The photo below shows the City of Portland, the second UP streamliner and the first to be diesel powered, numbered M-10001 ( Union Pacific photo, courtesy Don Snoddy). The train was fully articulated, and sheet rubber concealed the gaps between cars. But the train’s cars were normally kept together, so the usual diaphragm arrangement wasn’t needed. It is shown painted in the yellow and “autumn brown” scheme.

The inconvenience, particularly the inflexibility, of a fully articulated train soon led UP to articulate only  a few pairs of chair cars in the new City of Los Angeles and City of San Francisco trains of late 1937. 

Meanwhile, Southern Pacific had received the first Daylight consist, entirely equipped with full-width diaphragms. (I will say more about the full-width diaphragm challenges in a future post.) The stabilizers in these diaphragms were mostly hidden by the design, but on the chair-baggage cars at the head end, the “wings” were omitted and the equipment could be seen (Pullman-Standard photo, Steve Peery collection).

Note that there are horizontal stabilizers at top and bottom, and a vertical one, running diagonally from top to bottom. These stabilizers tended to keep face plates of adjacent cars in contact, which not only reduced motion and noise between cars, but maintained a smoother passageway for the passengers. 

Prominent in the above photo is the fact that the face plate is quite tall, as high as the roof line. In later years, when many of SP’s cars with full-width diaphragms had them removed, the remainder looked much like the photo above — with an important exception: the horizontal stabilizer bars were removed, leaving only the vertical one. Here’s an example, in this case the diner end of a Shasta Daylight articulated coffee shop-kitchen-diner, photographed at West Oakland in October 1961 (Don Munger photo).

So the cars with remnant full-width diaphragms looked like the above: really a standard-looking diaphragm, but with tall face plate and stabilizer bars. That’s relevant to a range of cars, because diaphragms like this were installed on head-end and other cars operating in consists with lightweight cars so equipped, even in the days when full-width diaphragms were still in use on cars that originally had them. 

These are not hard to model; simply make a face plate that looks like the above photo, add to any ordinary model diaphragm, and add stabilizer bars. Below is my styrene pattern for the tall face plate, next to the regular Pullman face plate pattern made earlier.

I will return to the topic of diaphragms, particularly full-width diaphragm issues, for additional lightweight equipment in future posts.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Open-car loads: crates, Part 3

 In the previous post in this series, I showed some scratchbuilt crates, that are intended as very large loads requiring open-top cars for shipment. That post is at this link: . In the present post, I want to say a little more about some of these scratchbuilt crate loads.  

I will begin by showing the final form of the crates whose construction was described in the previous post (citation in previous paragraph). I showed the Ingersoll-Rand side of the “long” crate in that previous post in a gondola, but it can equally well move on a flat car, in this case WLE 1974, being switched at Shumala. A scale 6 x 6-inch timber is attached at each end to secure the load to the deck.

The other side of the crate, as showed earlier, represents an outbound shipment from the layout’s Jupiter Pump and Compressor plant in Ballard. In the photo below, the JP&C plant switcher is spotting a New York Central flat car with this crate load, on the lead track for SP pickup.

The same crate, naturally, can also move realistically in a gondola. The next photo shows the same load in an SP gondola, departing Ballard in the branchline freight that is returning to Shumala.

In addition, a rather tall crate was constructed, for use on depressed center flat cars. Below is a view of the load in that situation, shown here in a mainline train, riding on the Devore flat car I restored recently (see the post on that project here: ). The visible side of the load here  is the Mesta Machine Co. side.

The last load I want to show here is one I have mentioned before, but may be worth repeating. It is a load from the Lucifer furnace company in Pennsylvania, and I showed it on a flat car in a previous post (see it at: ). Here is a current view of this load, on a different flat car, spotted on the team track in Santa Rosalia.

The versatility of crate loads would be hard to over-emphasize, as they offer the chance to identify the load beyond merely what may appear on a waybill. I enjoy the ones I have and am working on more of them.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Freight car handling and distribution: a response

 In recent posts about car fleet proportions, I described my understanding of the ways in which freight cars usually moved about the country, and gave some specific examples. Part of this description was a summary of the Gilbert-Nelson idea (of which, more below). You can find the newest post here: .

A very interesting comment on that post was provided by Dan Smith and is appended to that post. Because I wanted to comment in more detail than seemed appropriate in the “comments” segment, I am doing so here. To begin, here is Dan’s comment (I have taken the liberty of dividing it into paragraphs):

“On thinking about the proportion of foreign and small road cars, it occurs to me that the assumption that foreign road cars were free-running, especially in the 1950s, is probably misleading. In my experience railroads typically divided other railroads into three categories: connections (e.g. UP, to SP), competitors (e.g. ATSF, to SP), and Neutrals (e.g. PRR or NYC to SP). 

“Railroads would generally see many inbound cars from connections, and would be somewhat likely to spot those cars for return loading. Railroads would see few inbound cars from competitors, and would return them empty rather than willingly spotting them for return loading. You might see ATSF reefers in peak ag season when SP was short, but SP would actively avoid providing ATSF cars to on-line customers. (It is true that some customers would specifically make troublesome requests as bargaining leverage.) Pooled cars would be an exception, but it would also be rare for a railroad to enter into pooling with a competitor. 

“Neutrals would show up depending on where on-line customers bought their goods, and would be returned empty. If Jupiter Pumps had a supplier on the DSSA in Duluth, you might see DSSA boxcars regularly. These practices changed in later years as multi-carrier pooling for major customers, such as GM and Ford, became more common. But free-running cars have always been the exception. That exception was why the incentive per-diem boxcar program led to colorful short-line boxcars all over the country in the 1980s.That's also why TTX stenciled "Next load any road" on Railbox cars - it was the exception.
“So bring that DSSA boxcar onto the layout once a month with a load of castings for Jupiter, but be sure to send it back empty!”

Let  me begin by saying that Dan omits one very, very important aspect of freight car supply and handling: the state of the economy. When the economy is slack, and empty car supply accordingly plentiful, every road has surplus empties and, as Dan says, is happy to send them homeward. But when the economy is booming, cars soon are in short supply, and now the opposite case occurs: roads are scrambling for enough empties to serve their shippers, and will use anything available, even in violation of the Car Service Rules, to get that done.

Beyond that, Dan is quite right that railroads were fully aware of their close competitors (like Santa Fe versus SP, as Dan mentions), and would strive never to spot one of the competitor’s cars for loading. The same relationship applied between PFE and Santa Fe’s SFRD. 

There were also connecting roads that might be “friendly” connections, such as Northern Pacific in Portland, for the SP. These might well get a little better treatment in interchange. Dan seems to think that most arriving loads would be in cars owned by these connections, and I have no idea what that is based on. I have never seen any data that point in that direction, and perhaps Dan can direct me to examples. 

My only thought is that Dan is thinking of later years when Special Car Order 90 (SCO 90) began to dominate movement of empty cars, and more and more railroads added themselves to SCO 90 to obtain empties directly homeward. But that’s a later era than I was describing.

But now let’s look at what Dan calls “neutrals,” essentially all other railroads in the country. Dan thinks that the cars of neutrals were not free runners. I know of no basis for this in the 1950s, which was the period I emphasized. In fact, several authorities, including Eugene W. Coughlin (a manager in AAR’s Car Service Division), in his book, Freight Car Distribution and Car Handling in the United States (AAR, 1956), specifically identify the entire national fleet as free-running. This of course does not apply to specially-equipped or assigned-service cars, but certainly to most box cars, gondolas and flat cars. 

Moreover, Dan states that the DSS&A would use its own box car to ship to California, and, he adds, would get it back empty. This violates the Car Service Rules in both directions, and is exactly the reason those rules were set up. Not every car movement was in accord with those Rules, to be sure, but in the early 1950s, over two-thirds of all car movements were in accord. 

In fact, a quite likely car in which that shipper on the DSS&A would load for California would be an SP box car, which is what the Car Service Rules would direct.

Lastly, let’s again remember Gilbert-Nelson. This interesting idea states that at least on main lines of most railroads, the “free-running” freight cars, particularly box cars and gondolas, would move around the country somewhat randomly, as needed by shippers. That in turn suggests that the frequency of observation of any particular railroad’s freight cars, anywhere in the nation, would be in proportion to the size of that railroad’s total freight car fleet, relative to the national fleet.

A number of pieces of actual train consist data from the 1950s supported Gilbert-Nelson, so many of us interested in car distribution accept it as at least broadly true for that era. But if we accept Dan’s description of car handling, it could not be true. “Neutral” empties would always be getting sent home, instead of being loaded, and the further away a particular neutral might be located, the less frequently its cars would show up.

Dan is perhaps thinking primarily about railroading after the 1950s, when, as he says, more and more specially-equipped cars were put in service, and the “general purpose” box car or gondola became a smaller and smaller proportion of the national fleet. Certainly he is right that the IPD box cars, and the Railbox fleet, were aimed at countering those trends; but now we are talking about an era twenty or more years later than what I was discussing.

I will repeat what I said in response to Dan’s comment on my previous post: it is an interesting and though-provoking set of remarks, and I have enjoyed thinking through the topics that Dan raised. Moreover, as stated above, I agree with some of it. But there are other parts that I think are simply wrong, in the 1950s era that I discussed, and I’ve explained why, above. But I still have to thank Dan, for the stimulus and for taking the time to think and comment.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Waybills, Part 85: more on weight agreements

 In several recent posts, I have addressed the topic of weight agreements, the arrangements by which  a shipper could certify weight of a shipment loaded into a freight car, on the basis of the shipper’s own scale, or by counting packages loaded, and multiplying by unit weight. These agreements were indicated on waybills with a stamp giving the agreement number, thereby precluding any need to weigh the car (though railroads retained the absolute right to weigh any car, any time).

I pointed out some time back that there were known to be several regional Weighing and Inspection Bureaus or WIBs that administered these weight agreements, but at that time I didn’t know their geographic boundaries. (That post can be found here: .) 

With the help of prototype waybills from Andy Laurent’s collection, I was able to retrieve several of these regional agreement stamps, as I showed in a blog post (it is at this link: ). An example is below, from that post.

But it would still be valuable to know the regional boundaries, because obviously a waybill originating within a particular region should carry that region’s weight agreement stamp (if the shipper has such a stamp). So I continued to explore this question.

I have now found two maps of the territories of the tariff associations, only slightly different from each other, dating from 1925 and 1940. I will show the 1925 version below, taken from page 28 of a book of that date (Grover G. Huebner, The Fundamentals of Traffic, Traffic Service Corp, Chicago, 1925). I explain some of the details below. My apologies for the center glitch, as the map was laid out across the book’s gutter a little poorly. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

Note in the map that there is a vertical line within Canada, just at the top of Lake Superior. This was the division between the eastern and western parts of the Canadian Freight Association.

Several of the major territories in the map were previously known to me, and the Weighing and Inspection Bureau or WIB for each had approximately the same name. The far Western states under the Trans-Continental Freight Bureau, and the upper Midwest under the Western Trunk Line Committee, are well documented. Two of the other areas are complex because of multiple entities, and I will try to clarify. 

The first area of multiple associations is the northeastern U.S., combining the Trunk Line Association and the New England Freight Association. These later worked together as the Eastern Tariff Association. This region is shown below in color. It is important to recognize that there were indeed separate tariff structures in each of these two sub-regions, but that they worked together in administering the Eastern WIB.

Another complex area is the Southern Tariff Association, combining the Southeastern Mississippi Valley Association, the Associated Railways of Virginia and the Carolinas, and the Southeastern Freight Association. This essentially includes states east of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio River, then wrapping south of West Virginia and including Virginia. I have indicated this below in blue. Here again, the separate tariff territories administered the Southern WIB collectively.

Another interesting point in all this is that the Southwestern Tariff Association territory shown, covering Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, plus Mexico, was later subsumed into the Western Association. This appears to have happened after World War II, but I am still trying to find out more about that history.

So what’s the point of all this? I’ve already stated it: any waybill’s origination point lies within one of these territories, and should bear the corresponding stamp, if it has a stamp. Here’s an example, from the Easter WIB:

With the map shown in this post, I can correctly apply the right WIB stamps to waybills, and in fact will have to go back and correct a few previous waybills that were prepared without sufficient knowledge. Just another step toward more accurate waybills for layout operation. (And by the way, if anyone can offer additions or corrections to my descriptions here, it would be greatly appreciated.)

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Passenger car diaphragms, Part 2

 In my previous post, I introduced the topic of modeling passenger car diaphragms, starting with older cars like heavyweight Pullmans. I showed both the prototype appearance, and the old Walthers diaphragm parts for HO scale. (The post can be found here: .) In the present post, I want to continue with this topic.

First, I mentioned in that previous post that the Walthers diaphragm, though perhaps useful in filling large intercar spacings, is really too big for realistic spacings. It is easy to correct, as I pointed out; one fold or two folds can be removed, as desired (more on the criteria for doing so in a moment). Shown below is my 12-1 Pullman, Columbia Glacier, with a shortened Walthers diaphragm. This car, for those interested, has previously been described (see this post: ).

You may be able to tell, in the above photo, that the face of the diaphragm is about at the inner side of the opening in the coupler beneath it. This is my usual criterion for diaphragm depth. You can see it more clearly below. This geometry allows good performance on curved track, while maintaining near-contact of diaphragms on straight track, perhaps the best compromise.

I should repeat a comment from the previous post (link in top paragraph, above), that in later years head-end cars often lost most or all of the canvas bellows in their diaphragms, leaving the striker plate and not much else. To illustrate, shown below is a detail from a Wilbur C. Whittaker photo of SP 6188, a Class 60-B-2 car at Oakland on April 13, 1951.

In model form, this is fairly easy to duplicate; I showed my modeling of these minimal diaphragms in a previous post (that post is at this link: ). That same post shows my face plate drawing for making new styrene face plates. It also referenced my kitbash of an SP 70-foot baggage car with side windows, for a car that retained the top spring bar and a side fold of a bellows. You can see the diaphragm on that model below, with the top spring element visible.

Brass models of SP head-end cars have sometimes included these simplified diaphragm representations. Below is a photo of a Precision Scale Class B-60-10 car in HO brass; coupler is removed for clarity.

None of these models, in either this or the previous post in the series, include stabilizer rods. I will take up that topic in the next post in this series.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The “unusual” cars on your freight roster

 The present post follows two recent posts, summarizing contemporary knowledge about the proportions of individual railroad representation in interchange, based on considerable existing writing (see the first one at: ), and followed by some details to assess the kinds of cars within those proportions (the post on that topic is at this link: ).   

The idea that your freight car fleet ought, to some extent, mirror the largest parts of the national freight car fleet has been around for some time, and the two previous posts presented several examples. But what about the lesser roads? Not only the smaller of the Class I roads, but the roads that were smaller still? How can you apply these ideas to those kinds of railroads?

{A Class I railroad for many years meant income above $1 million, Class II from $1 million down to $100,000, and Class III below that. In 1956, the Class I distinction was raised to $3 million. Today these numbers are far higher.)

Naturally, smaller railroad fleets will be far less visible in interchange than the cars of bigger roads. But how much less? Well, let’s look at the data. We can begin with the table I showed in the previous post, which I’ll reproduce here for convenience (from the 1953 Cyc).

Note across the tops of the columns that the first column is “all steam railways” (meaning that interurbans are omitted), the second is just the Class I railroads, and the third is private owners. The difference between the sum of the second and third columns, and the number in the fourth column, is the non-Class I railroads. For box cars, it is 3582 cars, only 0.5 percent of the total: one half of one percent.

That is, of course, a small percentage, and in the notional model fleet of 150 foreign-road box cars that I discussed in the previous post, does not quite equal one car. But there are lots of familiar railroads in this category: the Western Maryland with 2284 box cars, the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton with 3151 box cars, the Western Pacific with 2473 box cars, and lots of others. Even the well-known Georgia Railroad only had 709 box cars in 1950. So the 3582-car total of non-Class I box cars is not that small.

But of course we can still portray the freight car fleets of smaller roads, just as some large roads were depicted in the previous post. For example, here is the interesting fleet of the Western Pacific, with considerably higher proportion of flat and stock cars, compared to the national average, and practically no hopper cars.

But let’s return to box cars. What do these small railroad sizes mean, in light of the notional model fleet of 150 foreign-road box cars? In effect, it means that you have to add up the many roads that have car fleets well below one percent of the national fleet, and consider representing the group of them as a whole. In saying this, I am following a suggestion of Tim O’Connor some years back.

In other words, my response is as follows. Yes, any one tiny railroad has a vanishingly small chance of showing up somewhere in the country; but taken all together, the many, many small railroads do add up to something significant. By one estimate, the small railroad car fleets taken all together, comprised more than 5 percent of the national fleet. Going back to that notional 150-car group of model box cars, this would say that about 7 of them ought to represent small or tiny railroads. And you can choose.

Now let’s consider one of these much smaller roads, the Duluth, South Shore &Atlantic, which in 1950 owned 318 box cars. That is about 0.04 percent of the national fleet, and to have, statistically, an accurate representation of the DSS&A fleet, with a single car, your total car fleet would have to be more than 2200 box cars. But hardly any modeler has that many; and the same calculation can be made for many, many minor railroads. 

But of course the DSS&A falls into our estimated 5 percent of all railroad box cars, and can be one of the roads whose box cars are chosen to fill out the “minor road group” in our notional fleet. I’ve chosen one of these cars for my own fleet: rare, to be sure, but just part of the “rarity group” in my fleet. It’s an InterMountain model, shown here being switched by SP Alco 1389 in front of the Shumala depot on my layout.

I continue to muse on these freight car fleet issues, and will doubtless return to the topic in future posts.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Open-car loads: crates, Part 2

 I have mentioned the attractions of crates as open-car loads in several previous posts, not only because they are relatively easy to make, but because they can be built so as to be used on both flat cars and gondolas. In addition, they can carry quite varied signs indicating manufacturer. Examples of my crate loads were shown in the preceding post on this topic (see that post at: ).

Other examples have also been shown previously, such as Richard Hendrickson’s load of multiple crates on a flat car, which I showed in an earlier post (you can find it here: ). I wanted to add more such loads.

I decided I would especially like to build some big crates. Such loads need to be large in at least one dimension, so it is evident they cannot be shipped in box cars, but require an open-top car. I began with a long crate, about 24 scale feet long, usable with either a flat car or gondola. The starting point was scribed styrene sheet, 0.040-inch thick, built into a box with a few internal corners braced with 1/8-inch square styrene.

I then used scale 1 x 6-inch styrene strip to secure corners and to hide the edges of joined pieces. 

A second crate was also built, with the idea for it to serve as a load on depressed-center flat cars. Logically this should be too tall for a regular flat car or gondola (but be aware of your NMRA track gauge, and don’t exceed operable height). The box was built the same way as the preceding one. Both boxes were then painted a light wood color, Tamiya “Wooden Deck Tan,” no. XF-78.

You may notice that I did not meticulously fit every joint in the corner strips. These are crates, not cabinet work. My good friend C.J. Riley once told me of how he had been admonished by a lead carpenter when he was doing apprentice work, taking too many blows to drive a nail: he was told, “C’mon, Riley, hit the nail! This ain’t no gran’ pye-anna.”

Next I needed to add some signs to the crates. Among the great sources of appropriate names and logos, often with color accents, are period magazines. These might include popular magazines, but a more promising source are technical and engineering journals. Nowadays you can photograph desirable ads in such publications with a cell phone at the library, size them to your needs in Photoshop or comparable software, and print them out on a high-resolution laser printer. Or of course hunt on the Internet.

Among other things, this is a chance to add recognizable elements to your layout, by using the names and emblems of familiar, large corporations. These can range from Ford to Westinghouse to Caterpillar to DuPont. You will see below that I’ve done exactly that. And don’t neglect your on-layout industries, which might ship out some product in a large crate or crates.

Below you see one side of each crate. Here I’ve made an outbound shipment from my on-layout industry, Jupiter Pump and Compressor, with a sign that reads “More Pumps From Jupiter...” while the other crate identifies itself as Mesta Machine Company (for background information on that company, see my post at: You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

The other side of both crates shows well-known national companies, in line with my comment above. I might add that styrene painted to look like wood only sort of resembles wood, but since these are loads, not primary models, I found the look acceptable.

You might wonder why the long, low load box has its signs so high on the box. The reason is simple: it’s because I want to use this load in gondolas as well as on flat cars, and I want the sign visible:

I like both making and operating loads for open-top cars, so this small project was fun to do, and will be fun when the loads show up in operating sessions. More on crates in a later post.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Modeling passenger car diaphragms

 The diaphragms on passenger car ends, used to secure passage between cars, beginning late in the 19th century, have always been a challenge for modelers. It isn’t that they are themselves difficult to model, it is because the curves and switches of our model trackage are so much sharper than the prototype. Inevitably we have to make a few compromises — as with so many modeling topics. 

I will begin by describing the prototype diaphragms used on heavyweight cars, particularly Pullman sleepers. These are about the oldest passenger cars I would encounter in my modeling year of 1953. Shown below is a clear view of the “standard” Pullman diaphragm, on the sleeper Alazon (a 12-1 floor plan, meaning 12 sections, 1 drawing room). The photo, dated December 2, 1927, is by Pullman (Rob Evans collection).

You can see the main features here: a face plate, which mated with the adjoining car’s face plate; a bellows of heavy canvas, with a metal frame inside; and a folding gate, closed up at the left side of the opening. At this time, diagonal stabilizer bars —also sometimes called tension rods, anti-rattle bars, or support rods — were not in use (more on those in a following post). 

There has long been an “acceptable” HO scale model version of this diaphragm, Walthers part no. 933-429. It consists of a face plate, of vinyl plastic, and a folded paper representation of the bellows. These are now described on the Walthers site as “availability discontinued,” presumably meaning permanently. One can still find them in some hobby shops, and from various on-line sellers.

I have used these Walthers parts in past years, and the model below is an example of how they look. I think you can see some shortcomings, compared to the photo of Alazon at the top of this post. The rim around the face plate is too wide and the bellows really too deep. But in a coupled-up consist, there is something between the cars, and if, as is often the case, our car spacing is larger than prototype, the over-deep bellows compensates.  

The model here is a Ken Kidder brass “Harriman” baggage car, though the arrangement of roof vents is closer to Illinois Central cars than to SP, and with Central Valley trucks. 

Naturally there have been numerous suggestions of ways to improve the Walthers product. One example, to make a better face plate from styrene sheet, was shown by Bob Zenk in Mainline Modeler, in articles in both 1981 and 1984. I showed the same approach myself, in a magazine article in 1984, referenced in an earlier post (see it at: ). That same post shows my face plate drawing. 

Another suggestion for improvement of the Walthers diaphragm is that you can remove one or more of the folds from the bellows, making it less deep. I will show this later.

Over the years there have been many commercial alternatives to the Walthers diaphragms, which I won’t review here. But for really excellent diaphragms, it is hard to beat the detail, accuracy and multiple designs of the Hi-Tech Details kits. Here’s a link if you’d like to look at the range they offer: . At this point, I will postpone further comment of my own to a future post or two.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Car fleet proportions, Part 2

 This post is a follow-on to the recent post about proportions of a freight car fleet, a much more general topic (you can review that post at this link: ). In the present post, I want to turn to the issue, not of fleet size, but of what cars are in each fleet. The previous post’s graphs were for entire car fleets (minus coal, ore and ballast cars). Now let’s delver further into details. 

I would begin with the national car fleet, as described in ICC statistics for Dec. 30, 1950. The table shown below was published in the 1953 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia, page 69.

What I suppose we could call the “bottom line” is at lower right, the total U.S. freight car fleet size of a little over 2 million cars. These statistics unfortunately combine gondola and hopper cars, both important categories. I only have data for Class I railroads (one of the columns above), but for 1950, there were 556,000 hoppers, 23,000 covered hoppers, and 285,000 gondolas. We can use this ratio, 556 / 865, to estimate that in the above table, the 882,000 combined hoppers and gondolas comprised 572,000 hoppers.

But other categories are clearly called out in the table, and we can recognize that the largest category is box cars (including auto cars), at about 720,000, followed by hoppers and gondolas. With that bottom-line number, we can make a bar graph of the national car fleet at the end of 1950.

Keep in mind, looking at this graph, that no railroad or any car owner could match this graph exactly. As the table above shows, nearly all tank cars and refrigerator cars were in private ownership. Moreover, each railroad owned a fleet of freight cars suited to its territory and its traffic. The graph of the car fleet for one’s layout might look like this, but no individual car owner could do so.

This is an interesting piece of information, the composition of the national fleet, but how do we do the same for individual railroads? We turn to the Official Railway Equipment Register, or ORER, in this case for April 1950 (the issue I have). We can quickly assemble bar graphs like the one shown above, but for individual railroads. 

I will begin with the Pennsylvania. We saw in the previous post that their car fleet was the largest in the U.S., with or without hopper cars. Here is a graph of the constituents of the PRR fleet.  I’ve retained the order of car types from the graph above.

Let us look for a second at just the Pennsylvania box cars. In 1950, they were more than 8 percent of the entire national fleet of box cars, so on many layouts, you might expect 8 percent of the foreign road box cars to be PRR cars. (Note that I separate foreign cars from home-road cars; the issue of home-road car percentages is an interesting but separate one, as I’ve described: .) 

 What that 8 percent would mean can be shown with a numerical example. Let’s imagine that you have, or plan to have, a freight car fleet for your layout that will include 150 box cars that can be foreign-road cars (this is a big number, but just an example). The data above then suggest that 12 of your 150 foreign-road box cars will be PRR cars.

What about a sizeable road, though the smallest one in the bar graph of railroad fleets in the previous post, the Rock Island (formally, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific)? Let’s look at that. First, here’s a graph like the one above, dramatizing how the Rock Island fleet was dominated by box cars. (Many other Western railroad fleets were also dominated by box cars.) Unless you model a road adjoining the Rock Island, you are only likely to see box cars as Rock Island foreign cars. Note also how different was the composition of the Rock Island fleet, compared to the PRR graph shown above.

In 1950, the presumably free-running Rock Island box cars, AAR type XM, numbered a bit over 17,000 cars. The national fleet of such cars was about 720,000 cars, making the Rock Island fleet about 2.3 percent of all box cars. In model terms, that might mean that if my model railroad has 150 foreign-road box cars, about 3 should carry RI reporting marks. 

Now I will show just one more example, the Southern Railway, which is interesting because of the substantial number of flat cars, well above the national average. Moreover, the ORER shows us that fully two-thirds of these were AAR type LP flat cars, meaning equipped for pulpwood service. This was a regional emphasis (the Seaboard fleet was similar in this regard), but the difference emphasizes the need to understand each railroad separately. And one might well decide that those pulpwood flats would not travel far beyond the rails of the Southern or its neighbors.

I will continue with some more observations on individual railroad car fleets in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Monday, May 10, 2021

Modeling heavyweight sleepers, again

Awhile back I wrote a series of blog posts about heavyweight Pullman sleepers, including a post showing how I followed the Thomas Hoff articles in Mainline Modeler during most of 1981 to convert among the various floor plans of the Pullman fleet (see it at: ). In these articles, Hoff showed how to take advantage of the essentially modular Pullman car design, by moving window groups and other parts to reproduce different cars.  

(If you have the 1981 issues of  Mainline Modeler or can lay hands on them, you can read Hoff’s original articles; if not, it may be easier to buy the “Best of Mainline Modeler” compendium volume entitled Passenger Cars, the cover of which I show below. These do show up for sale on line. It contains all five of the original articles.) 

I still have some of the materials for such conversions, having purchased a whole bunch of the AHM (manufactured by Rivarossi) heavyweight Pullmans back in the day. This model represents a 12-1 Pullman, that is, 12 sections and a drawing room, the most numerous Pullman floor plan by far. There were at least 4000 cars with this floor plan, out of a fleet of 8000 or so cars. 

In the Hoff process, one uses a “sacrifice model” to obtain window or other panels to then replace in the window band of the Pullman you are modifying, since these signify what arrangements exist inside the car. At one time, New England Rail Services offered these parts, but they now are getting hard to find, so we ma be back to using old Rivarossi bodies.

The photo below is from the second Hoff article, and shows a paired window (used for individual Pullman sections and some room accommodations) being placed in the car being modified. This may look tricky, but in practice is not, for two reasons. First, you cut out the desired piece oversize, and cut the destination area undersize, and have lots of material available for working to make the two fit. Second, the Rivarossi plastic is pretty soft and files or sands quite quickly. In fact, my view is that the challenge is to work slowly enough. 

One sacrifice body can serve for a number of modifications. I happened to have purchased a couple of cars with the CNJ “Blue Comet” paint scheme, and it was lucky because the window band is a cream color. This makes it really easy to work on. Here is one of those cars, after numerous removals.

The advantage of the cream color shows up when you are placing the piece being moved, as you can see on the body below. I usually strip the old paint from the body to be modified, so it’s then black, and a replacement part like this is easy to see and work with. The window pair shown here serves a drawing room in the sleeper being modeled; the number of sections is being reduced from 12 to 10.

I have already done, with this method, a 14-section tourist Pullman, an 8-1-2 (8 sections, 1 drawing room, 2 compartments), and a 10-1-1 (10 sections, 1 drawing room, 1 compartment). The car shown above will be another 10-1-1, and will be lettered “Pullman” as representing one of the cars not sold to railroads in 1948, but retained in the Pullman pool. I already have two such cars (as I showed in an earlier blog post, which can be viewed at this link: ), and wanted to add one more.

But first the model needed to have some interior partitions, and paint inside and out. More on that in a following post.

Tony Thompson

Friday, May 7, 2021

Proportions of a freight car fleet

 Most model railroaders have a collection of freight cars that meets some expectation or another, from at one extreme, a “what I like” collection, to the other extreme of a carefully curated set that is correct for locale and era. Not everybody is interested in curating their models, and I understand that. This post is about having some degree of realism in the freight cars you own and/or operate, to the extent that realism appeals to you.

I have written about this topic a number of times previously, though today I will touch on aspects not previously discussed. And because of the multiple previous posts, I will move along fairly smartly in the present post, so if any of the material seems unclear, please consult the posts cited at the end of this one, for background. 

Around 25 years ago, Tim Gilbert and Dave Nelson offered a very interesting idea: that at least on main lines of most railroads, the “free-running” freight cars, particularly box cars and gondolas, would move around the country somewhat randomly, as needed by shippers. That in turn suggests that the frequency of observation of any particular railroad’s freight cars, anywhere in the nation, would be in proportion to the size of that railroad’s total freight car fleet, relative to the national fleet.

They provided actual freight train data from conductors’ time books, and at least on bridge-route type main lines, the hypothesis seemed to have support. Gilbert and Nelson were quick to point out that their idea would not apply to freight cars with specialized equipment or assignments, notably tank cars, nor would it apply to most branch lines, for example coal branches.

But it’s clear that the Gilbert-Nelson hypothesis leaves all of us needing to be, as I think Jeff English first said, Pennsy modelers, as the Pennsylvania Railroad had, by a considerable amount, the largest freight car fleet in the United States. It also tends to make us modelers of the other “biggest freight fleets,” New York Central, Baltimore & Ohio, Milwaukee Road, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific. 

What do the data look like on this topic? I believe that the first person to emphasize railroad car fleets entirely by size was John Nehrich, in the January 1989 issue of Model Railroading magazine. He was interested in car reporting marks as such, not in total railroad ownership, so he omitted railroad subsidiaries with separate reporting marks (such as the Omaha road within the CNW). He also chose, for reasons I don’t know, to report data for 1949.

I made a new graph of the same data, correcting them for the year 1950 (from the April 1950 issue of the Official Railway Equipment Register, or ORER), not only to have a “rounder number” for the year, but to go beyond the large bulge of carbuilding after World War II. I also added in the subsidiaries of relevant roads, and produced the graph you see below (road names with asterisks have subsidiaries added in), still listed in the order Nehrich used.

In this graph, the shaded part of each bar is the total ownership by that road of hopper, ore and ballast cars. It seemed to me that in assessing interchange around the United States, we have to recognize that most coal and ore traffic was not long-distance, and moreover in many cases mostly on home rails. In addition, coal and ore cars were certainly not free-running cars in most circumstances. Also omitted are ballast cars, for the same reasons. In other words, the black parts of the bars in the above graph shows the railroad ownerships most likely to show up anywhere in the country. 

Accordingly, I re-plotted the data you see above, keeping just the black bars and re-ordering them by size. That produced the following graph of, if you will, the biggest interchange fleets in the U.S. The PRR and NYC remain the largest.

I of course recognize that if you model a railroad that handled a lot of coal or ore, or adjoined such a railroad, this graph may not suit you; but I believe it suits most of the United States.  

At this point, I know that our Canadian friends are beginning to growl about the omission of the Canadian roads. Where do they stack up in this kind of ranking? In the graph below, I have inserted the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific data from the April 1950 ORER, as orange bars. 

You can see immediately, if you didn’t already know, that CN and CP did indeed own extremely large freight car fleets. But if we focus on the United States, every piece of information I have found about Canadian cars operating in the U.S. shows at most 10 percent, and usually less than 10 percent, of those fleet numbers were in the U.S. at any one time. Obviously if we decrease the orange bars to 10 percent of the size shown above, these reporting marks fall far down the chart. That’s whey I omitted them above.

I’ve written extensively on this general subject, and the foregoing is just a summary. For those who would like to read more, I might recommend first my article in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for December 2011.  There are also a number of prior blog posts, perhaps most usefully these two: and a later example with  more specifics, including some calculations for illustrative railroads: . I’ve also written a discussion about the meaning and frequency of “free-running” freight cars, for those less familiar with that idea (if you like, you can find it here: ). In a future post, I will delve deeper into this topic.

Tony Thompson